Chuckey-Doak HS therapy dog program helping lift student spirits

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GREENE COUNTY, Tenn. (WJHL)- A program that saw past success in boosting students spirts has now returned to an area high school.

A therapy dog program was first brought to Chuckey-Doak High School in Greene County after two students died unexpectedly last fall.

School administrators noticed students were feeling down and decided to introduce the therapy dogs in December 2018.

Last year, Chuckey-Doak High School lost of two students unexpectedly.

“We experienced the death of two students last fall. After the second death, our students and ou faculy and staff were just very down, and very stressed,” Principal Shelly Smith said.

In order for students to be able to cope with the tragedies, faculty brought in therapy dogs in December of 2018. The response from students were so great that the high school brought more therapy dogs in April 2019.

“It was amazing, the results that we saw. From that morning to that afternoon. I saw people smiling for the first time in a week,” Smith said. “It really helped them just find a healthy way to cope with stress instead of some of the unhealthy ways that teenagers sometimes choose to cope.”

Following the school year, faculty conducted a survey to see if students wanted therapy dogs on school property for long term. More than 60% of students gave positive reviews.

Smith said, “I think that definitely helped kids want to be at school when they need to be and it gave them something to look forward to.”

There are about 585 students who attend Chuckey-Doak, and this year, Smith said nearly 100% of students signed up to be a part of the dog therapy program.

Parental and/or guardian permission is required.

“Whether it’s in the personal one-to-one setting with the counselor, or if it is in a larger ‘we’re coming through the school today, or we’re going to be in the library if you want to come through’ during your lunch time jus tto have a moment with the dog,” Smith explained. “And you’ll see kids. They’ll come up and they’ll pet for a little while and about 3-5 minutes, they’re ready to move on when it’s just that general interaction.”

The school is working with a program called Human-Animal Bond in Tennessee, also known as HABIT, which is the same program used at the University of Tennessee.

“For several years now, probably five or six, we’ve been taking dogs to visit with UT students during finals times at the different libraries on campus,” East Tennessee Program Coordinator for HABIT, Ruth Sapp said. “Just changes their focus and allows them to shed stress really quickly.”

According to Paws for People, the benefits of having therapy dogs in classrooms include:

  • Improvement in cardiovascular health
  • Decreases anxiety
  • Helps children overcome speech and emotional disorders
  • Helps students focus better
  • Increases motor skills

“What we see is that kids can take a moment to change what’s on their mind, let go of some stress,” Sapp said. “It happens almost immediately. The interaction with a pet just helps them to slow their breathing, slow their heart rate.”

“The kids will wait in line to interact with a dog is what we’ve seen,” Sapp said. “I’ve had kids sit with me for an hour.”

The program works with any size or breed of dog as long as it meets the criteria for temperment and behavior.

Sapp explained, “What we find is sometimes the large dog is a really good fit for people who are in beds or maybe in wheelchairs or can’t bend over and meet a dog that’s lower to the ground and sometimes dogs that are very small are good fit for places that they might sit in someone’s lap.”

The high school is looking to expand their program by partnering with community members who have a therapy dog and would like to join the school’s efforts in helping students to de-stress in a healthy way.

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